50 Vice Chancellors meet:what they will achieve?

V.S.Naipaul, the Nobel Prize winning author of Indian origin is known for his provocative remarks. He is a maverick. In a recent interview to New York Times he said: there are no thinkers in India!
A country of one billion people, he says, has no thinkers! It is a calamity, he says further.Then he goes on to give his wisdom. It is this: India and China together will completely alter the world. He also notes that in contrast nothing is happening in the Arab world. So far so good. As a Nobel Laureate his views are bound to be listened by the world.

We can listen to Naipaul seriously or we can dismiss him. It is up to us, Indians. But as a serious -minded person, I can’t dismiss him off hand. After all he is read widely. Though I had only read his prose writings, not his fiction. After I met Naipaul once in Bangalore I tried to read his novels. The man himself was polite to me, his very charming wife, the Pakistan-born lady lent some charm to Naipaul’s rather grubby face!

Anyway, out of courtesy I tried to know Naipaul better so I read his novels. I am sorry to confess he was quite unreadable for me! But this doesn’t matter we can just dismiss him. He has some views and we have to remember that for a man given his Indian origin and his choice to live and write in UK he had to say some really shocking things, Otherwise, no publisher will publish and no English readers will touch your books! Even the great Mulk Raj Anand in his later writings had to pander to the British quirks.Who would read about India, the good things, specially the British who had to quit India after occupying it for so long and after almost destroying the Indian minds to believe in their own great past glories.

The English are very arrogant people, having ruled the world and they still imagine their past is still present. After all everyone can take his or her own countries past glories very seriously.
But the outside world changes and this very few notice.
Just as I was thinking of a response to Naipaul I read that 50 Vice chancellors of the Southern Universities met for a deliberation on higher education in India.This made me think. What they would achieve? I asked myself.

The incumbent Chief Ministers rule the universities too. Our own academic community is given to playing so much caste and community politics and today our universities are the last places to look for bold new ideas and opinions. There are none!
The real new thoughts had to come from outside the universities. Perhaps the media could give outlet to a few bold thoughts.

A society like India, as I say, is more comfortable with a bureaucratic existence!
We don’t have critical faculties in humanities, philosophy and the study of inter-disciplinary courses.We mistake profesionals as intellectuals. We mistake bureaucrats as writers! We suffer from the age-old inferiority complex. Our long slavery haunts us. It is a complex process, this business of acquiring confidence and also getting to do much of soul searching to shed our mental slavery.

There is very little scope for original thinkers. Every one in the university affairs talks of budgets, allocations, autonomy, global context, quality practices, private universities, distance education etc. Distance education? It is a scandal!
In India no man in power believes in the autonomy of the others.We are still not a mature society. Our 1000 year slavery, our past oppresses our minds. NRI intellectuals are also not forthcoming when it comes to original ideas. They can’t speak in the USA, their country of employment for fear of antagonising Bush administration! They are also careful inside India for fear of antagonising the visa-issuing host country! One academic, an Indian turned Canadian citizen said so to me!
A French man can have this freedom. Paris society gives this atmosphere. London gives this environment.In a way, New York can be said to be the capital of the world. In India, New Delhi is so paranoid.

There is a Knowledge Commission, the government had allocated Rs.100 crores to make IISc into a world class research university etc.

Do all these initiatives, though highly laudable, are enough?
Not enough is my simple answer. Why I say so? No great university in the world had become great by quantity, numbers or big budgets. Nor by observing the outward rituals of running the administration of the universities. In India we have some false belief, that the sheer budgets and number would give us the international recognition. It hasn’t. So far. What chance it would be this time?

I feel, rather strongly, we Indians, more so higher education planners, need to do a lot of introspection about where we, are weak.We seek still paper degrees, official titles, padmabhushans etc. but not real achievements in intellectual spheres. Our universities are like prisons, our univeristy intellectuals are crushed by officialdom.VCs are mere machines driven by fear of the authority. On the contrary, it is the freedom to think independently, even to oppose the government policies, it is the independent enquiries, artists and poets and other creative writers, including scientists have to establish their credentials outside the authority.
A London, Oxford, Paris or even small German university towns, Marburg or Heidelburg draws dedicated souls. Not our universities. We still do much dishonest attempts to win laurels. Such laurels are no achievement.

If I can sound a bit rhetoric we, Indians need a new cosmology, a new certitude. Says Paul Johnson: in many ways an educated man in the 1990s was less equipped with certitudes than an ancient Egyptian in 2500 BC! Indians need some new certitudes about their own new capabilities.
Recognise talents by some unorthodox manner. Universities must have poetry chairs, new innovative chairs like the one that puts Richard Dwakins as professor of public understanding of science.

Here, once appointed, no professor retires! So much inbreeding, so much poltical interference, no sense of pride in us, intellectuals! So, it seems to be a long road ahead! Before we would encounter brave souls!

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